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Palpating the ram

Why do we do it and what are we looking for?

Often in summer you can find your vet hunkered down in a race behind a line of woollies, what are we doing? We are palpating rams. This involves checking the testicles for defects to determine the ram’s soundness for breeding. It is preferable to palpate rams at least six weeks before mating, at sale time and at ram lamb weaning.

Defects we commonly detect include:

  • Mono-orchidism (only one testicle present)
  • Micro-orchidism (one or both testicles are underdeveloped)
  • Cryptochidism (no testicles present)
  • Epididymitis (lumps/inflammation in the surrounding tubes)
  • Scarring and damage to the testicle or scrotum
  • Scrotal mange

All of the above conditions can affect a ram’s fertility, so detecting these problems early can help us to make decisions on which rams are best to use at mating and which rams are sound for sale. It is important to have a six-week buffer between palpating and mating so that unsound rams can be removed and replaced.


Brucellosis is a disease caused by the bacteria Brucella ovis. It tends to affect mature rams and It can cause epididymitis which can be palpated as lumps in the epididymis surrounding the testicle. The disease variably affects the quality of the semen from the ram, which in turn can lead to reduced lambing performance.

Brucellosis can be passed between rams by mating behaviour with each other and by mating a ewe who has recently been mated by an infected ram.

Risks include introducing a new ram to the flock and untested neighbouring rams jumping the fence.

Unfortunately, not all brucellosis rams will have lumps and fortunately not all rams with lumps will have Brucellosis. Other diseases, like Histophilus, and injuries to the testicles can cause lumps, even teaser rams will have very large lumps. The way we can distinguish if a ram with lumpy testicles has Brucellosis or not is through a blood test.

How to help prevent brucellosis

  • Keep good boundary fences 
  • Test any new rams by palpation and blood test if they haven’t been tested before you bought them
  • Get your local vet to palpate rams every year pre-mating and pre-sale and blood test any with lumps

There is a voluntary Brucellosis scheme available which allows you to declare the farm as Brucellosis accredited after a series of blood tests and palpations have been carried out by a veterinarian. Accreditation is annually reapproved by doing the following: blood testing and palpation of all stud rams, blood testing a proportion of commercial rams and palpation of all commercial rams.

Please feel free to talk to your veterinarian about ram palpation.